2.3 Diderot and the Passions

Thursday, 27. August 2009


The opening words of the Philosophic Thoughts are the keynote to Diderot’s character, according to editor/journalist John Morley (1838-1923) who wrote also the following translation:


“People are for ever declaiming against the passions; they set down to them all the pains that men endures, and quite forget that they are also the source of all his pleasures. It is only passion, and strong passions, that can raise the soul to great things. Sober passions produce only the commonplace. Deadened passions degrade men of extraordinary quality. Constraint annihilates the greatness and energy of nature. See that tree: ’tis to the luxury of its branches that you owe the freshness and the wide-spreading breadth of its shade, which you may enjoy till winter comes to despoil it of its leafy tresses.

An end to all excellence in poetry, in painting, in music, as soon as superstition has once wrought upon human temperament the effect of old age! It is the very climax of madness to propose to oneself the ruin of the passions. A fine design truly in your pietist, to torment himself like a convict in order to desire nothing, love nothing, feel nothing; and he would end becoming a true monster, if he were to succeed!”


Yes, that’s typical Diderot, that’s him all over…

Btw, nothing wrong with following our very strong passions, no matter what,

or is this too romantic and have we become cynics instead…

2.2 The venom of the most criminal opinions

Friday, 7. August 2009


After writing several translations Diderot felt confident enough to publish (anonymously) a collection of his own thoughts, titled Pensées philosophiques (1746). The work is an expansion of his notes on Lord Shaftesbury, organised in the form of sixty-two short paragraphs. The principal purpose was to propose a deistic alternative to Chistianity and to advocate the uses of reason and experimental method in the search for truth. The work made a considerable impact  and  was burned by the Paris Parlement, as ‘presenting to restless and reckless spirits the venom of the most criminal opinions that the depravity of human reason is capable of’.  The Philosophic Thoughts ends with the following addition:


‘A man had been betrayed by his children, by his wife and by his friends; some disloyal partners had ruined his fortune and plunged him into poverty. Pervaded with a profound hatred and contempt for the human race, he left society and took refuge alone in a cave. There, pressing his fists into his eyes, and contemplating a revenge proportional to his grievances, he said: “Evil people! What shall I do to punish them for their injustice and to make them all as unhappy as they deserve? Ah! if it were possible to imagine it — to intoxicate them with a great fantasy to which they would attach more importance than to their lives, and about which they would never be able to agree!” Instantly he rushed out of the cave, shouting, “God! God!” Echoes without number repeated around him, “God! God!” This fearful name was carried from pole to pole, and heard everywhere with astonishment. At first men prostrated themselves, then they got up again, asked each other, argued with each other, became bitter, cursed each other, hated each other and cut each other’s throats - the fatal wish of the misanthropist was fulfilled. For such has been in the past, such will be in the future, the story of a being at all times equally important and incomprehensible.’


This is a striking example of Diderot’s thoughts. No wonder that he was considered a dangerous criminal in his days…

2.1 Diderot and female loyalty

Wednesday, 5. August 2009

The first novel that Diderot wrote, in 1748, was about the empire of the bored sultan Mangogul. In the beginning of the story there is a good genie, Cucufa, who discovers at the bottom of his pocket, in the midst of worthless things — consecrated seeds, little pagodas made of lead, and moldy sugar-coated pills — a tiny silver ring. When you turn the stone of this ring towards the place where the legs of a woman meet, their sex will speak. The person who is wearing the ring becomes invisible, a pleasant condition  in such a situation. The spirit gives the ring to the curious sultan. Soon he starts his experiments among the women in his harem during a teaparty.

No matter the reputation of the woman the invisible sultan chooses, clean, pristine or decent, when he turns his ring towards their belly, their sex starts talking. And they talk about sex. They speak about the frustrations, desire, pleasure, cheating, adultery and with whom, and all kinds of other forbidden adventures. The sultan is all ears, and he is not the only one…

The main interest of the sultan is whether women in general are faithful. His research shows him that there’s no woman who can be trusted. At the end he turns to Mirzoza, his favourite courtesan… Diderot’s story keeps silent about this outcome, that’s up to the reader.  

Diderot’s “Indiscreet Jewels” has probably been inspired by “Le chevalier Qui Fist parler les Cons” (English title: “The Knight Who Made Cunts and Assholes Speak” , a ribald fable by Garin.


So, isn’t it a fascinating fantasy, to think of the stories that both sexes could tell each other in complete honesty…

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